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Local golf courses are on par with water conservation efforts

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION) With acres worth of greens to water, one may wonder how golf courses manage to stay green without making a divot in the local water supply.

According to a handful of golf course superintendents, a course's irrigation system is at the forefront of all operations. Irrigation systems are comprised of several elements including the course's water source, sprinkler system, and even weather stations. All of these elements play a part in determining how much water these facilities use on a daily basis.

You know, people always ask, what's the most important part of the golf course? It used to be greens. But when you're on our side of it, it's the irrigation. That's the water.

Gavin Dickson, Superintendent, Tehama Golf Club

When superintendents refer to their irrigation system, they're talking about much more than just sprinkler heads - although those are an important part. Irrigation systems are comprised of several moving parts including a sprinkler system, complex mapping of each and every sprinkler head on the property, a computerized system that can control the sprinklers from anywhere at any time, and of course a water source. For some properties, water sources are larger than others.

Pebble Beach Company, for example, harnessed non-potable water from across the Monterey Peninsula by constructing its own reservoir and water treatment plant. "The Pebble Beach company developed and helped finance what ultimately became a $67 million water recycling project," said Chief Executive Officer David Stivers. "So that that includes a reservoir, all the piping, and the water recycling plant."

All five of the golf courses associated with Pebble Beach Company are irrigated by the aforementioned reservoir that uses reclaimed water from homes of regular citizens. In other words, "All the water that's being used on the golf courses is coming from the sewer system," Stivers explained "So it's people flushing their toilets."

While it is common for courses to recycle non-potable water, not all facilities' practices are as extensive. For the Tehama and Santa Lucia Preserve Golf Clubs near Carmel-by-the-Sea, water does not enter nor leave the golf course. In other words, both courses source water out of their own wells that do not lend or borrow water from local supply.

In addition, both clubs use precipitation as a source of water for their irrigation systems. "About 75% of our irrigation water is from the rainfall from the rainy season," said Santa Lucia Preserve Golf Club superintendent, Kyle Butler. "We have an extensive drainage system that captures that rain, and it's stored in two irrigation ponds and saved for when we need it."

But with a short rainy season and a finite water supply, superintendents must be creative not only about how they save water, but about how they keep the water that they have. A common culprit of water loss is evaporation. Butler explained, "The water that we have that's stored in the ponds is subject to evaporation, which is up to 20+ percent loss of our water through evaporation. So we have a couple of new mitigation measures that we're using."

One of these strategies is that of floating hexagonal disks. These buoy-type mechanisms fit together like puzzle pieces and cover the surface of the golf course's ponds entirely - keeping any droplets from escaping via evaporation. Since this system is still in its trial stages, Santa Lucia Preserve is unable to comment on just how much water these disks could save. However, Butler said that any amount is significant.

"We're stewards of the land and of water, and water is very precious to a golf course manager… We strive in every way to not use any more water than we absolutely need."

Kyle Butler, Superintendent, Santa Lucia Preserve Golf Club

Tehama's Gavin Dickson also pointed out that keeping courses on the drier side is in the best interest of not only the environment, but of golfers as well. Dickson explained that an over-watered course slows greens down, and inhibits golf balls from bouncing. "Nobody wants to golf if the ball will plug into the soil," he explained. "It just plays better when it's firmer."

One of the sacrifices that Tehama has made recently is limiting irrigation on its practice facilities. Dickson said that while there have been occasional complaints, the conservation is worth it. He added, "It doesn't have to be lush green, but we also want to make sure it's alive."

Through the use of manipulatable sprinkler heads, recycled water, and numerous other strategies, local golf courses are doing what they can to keep their facilities green - both literally and environmentally.

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Courtney Aitken

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